Mrs. Goodliff’s Limb

 

An article written in the Daily Gazette in March of 1886 told the strange story of Goodliff family.  Mrs Goodliff had suffered for some time with pain in her leg.  The pain eventually grew so bad that couple had to make the difficult decision to have Mrs. Goodliff’s leg amputated.  

The operation went well and Mrs. Goodliff was hopeful as she began the long journey to recovery.  It was not very long before she began to suffer from pain all over again.  This pain seemed to be centered in the leg that now was buried in the cemetery.   She endured the pain as her doctors and her family watched helplessly.

Doctor Townsend, the physician who had performed the amputation of Mrs. Goodliff’s leg, consulted with other doctors about the “phantom pain”.  But they had no idea what could alleviate the poor woman’s suffering.  There were times that the pains were so bad that she would scream in pain. She stated that it felt that her leg was still attached and that something was wrapped too tightly causing the leg to throb with pain.

Finally, William’s mother could not stand her daughter-in-laws cries any longer. She convinced Mr. Goodliff that something must be done. They decided that Mr. Goodliff needed to dig up the leg and bring it home to show his wife that the leg had been amputated.

So William, accompanied by a friend, went to the cemetery and unearthed his wife’s leg.  When he found the leg, he unwrapped it and found that the leg actually did contain tight bindings. One wrapping was at the toe area which is exactly where his wife complained of feeling the worst pain.  The other was wrapped tightly just below where the leg had been separated.   WIlliam carefully unwrapped the bindings and removed the stockings to free the leg from anything that might cause any discomfort. He packed up the leg carefully and carried it back to show his wife.  

William was pleased when he returned home to find his wife’s pains were relieved.  The article went on to say that many of the family and friends of the couple were with Mrs. Goodliff at the home while Mr. Goodliff was at the cemetery.  Later, everyone was shocked when they realized that Mrs.Goodliff’s pain receded at exactly the same time as William loosened the bindings on the amputated leg though these incidents occurred many miles apart.

Even the doctors that were attending Mrs. Goodliff stated that they had never seen a case similar to the  young woman’s.  She recovered quickly after this incident and Mr. Goodliff eventually returned the amputated limb to the cemetery where it remained until her death.

Tripp Pioneer Cemetery – Family Histories

Driving the narrow back roads of Winnebago County in search of small cemeteries is like taking a trip back through time.  It doesn’t take much to imagine the way the area appeared one hundred years ago.  

Though some of these cemeteries have been lost to time, Winnebago County has a dedicated group of people who have searched out these obscure graveyards.  They have found the locations, cleaned them up, and rescued the few remaining tombstones.  

The Tripp Pioneer Cemetery is one of these fortunate locations. It lies along Paulson Road (part of which is now known as Paladin Highway) in Harlem township between Harlem Road and Orth Road. Though twenty six to twenty nine names are listed in the records for this cemetery only a few headstones remain.  These have been gathered and placed inside a fence to help protect them.

The land for the cemetery was given by a man named Jonas Tofflemire.  Jonas donated an acre of his farm for the cemetery in 1842 when David Anderson died.  David was an uncle to Jonas’s wife, Sally Sessions.

Jonas and his brother John had a very interesting history even before arriving in Winnebago County in 1839.  Their parents were Henry and Judith Fox (Fuchs) Tofflemire.  Henry fought during the Revolution. He was captured by Native Americans in Kentucky at Ruddle’s Fort and forced to march to Detroit. In 1790, he was given a land grant at Grosse Isle, Canada by King George III for his service to the crown. Henry died prematurely at age of thirty four years old, leaving his wife to raise their two young sons.  

Jonas and John were both born in Canada and came together to Winnebago County.  Jonas purchased 160 acres of farmland in Harlem Township.  John’s history was a little harder to trace.  He was born in 1794 (or 1796 by some records).  He married Mary Stewart and had five children.  John died in 1851 and was buried in the Tripp Cemetery.

Jonas was better known in the township and his records were easier to obtain.  Jonas was born on September 14, 1796.  He was trained as a blacksmith but also worked in carpentry.  In fact, he would build the caskets of some of his neighbors interred at the cemetery.

Jonas was fascinated by astronomy and spent many hours stargazing in his backyard.  He used his artistic skills to construct a model of planets and their orbits. Jonas became so well known for this hobby that several professors visited him on the farm.

Jonas married Sally Sessions, the daughter of Samuel and Sarah Anderson who also moved to Winnebago County.  Jonas and Sally would raise eleven children.  Their house and farm still sit on Paulson Road.

Jonas lost Sally when she died in 1854 but hopefully it brought him comfort to have her laid to rest on the corner of their property next to her parents and their children who had died so young.  Jonas passed away on March 24, 1879.

Sally’s father Samuel came to Winnebago County around the same time as the Tofflemire brothers.  He bought the property next to theirs and began to farm.  Sally’s mother, Jane was blind and when Samuel died in 1872, Sally and Jonas’ son Samuel Findley moved to the Sessions land to farm the land and care for his grandmother.  Samuel married Salome Celia Tripp on March 4, 1850.  Samuel was considered a very progressive farmer who experimented to improve his crops.  Both Salome and Samuel are buried in the small cemetery next to their families.

The tallest head stone in Tripp Cemetery bears the name of Horace Dyer.  Horace was born in 1817 in New York and traveled to Winnebago County in 1836 with his parents James and Susan.  Horace was married to Clarissa Tripp on December 14, 1845.  In 1847, he bought land in Harlem township but felt the tug of adventure in 1848 when the news of the California gold rush spread throughout the land.  He stayed in California for three years before returning to the farm.  Horace and Clarissa had five children.  

Though I’m not sure why the cemetery was eventually named the Tripp Cemetery instead of the Tofflemire Cemetery there are family members of both families buried there.

Noah Tripp came to the area with his wife Sarah (Allen or Allis) in 1846 – at least by some accounts.  One of their daughters Salome would marry Samuel Findley Tofflemire and their son, John C. Tripp married Mary E. Tofflemire, daughter to Jonas and Sally.  Mary died in 1882 and was buried next to her parents. John married a second wife, Clara and they had five children.  They are both buried in Belvidere.arah Tripp passed away and Noah married Mary Herrin on August 14, 1854.  Though there are no records stating where Sarah was buried, both Noah and Mary are interred at Tripp.

There are several children who are buried at Tripp Cemetery that show no other relatives listed. Whether their families moved from the area or were just buried in another location is not known. These are Mary Dailey, daughter of J. and J. Dailey who died in 1861 at the age of one year old. Angus Turner son of C.W. and A.J. Turner  born in 1862 died September 1, 1863; and Florence Turner daughter of C.W. and A.J. Tuner born in 1865 and died September 15, 1868.

These little cemeteries that dot Winnebago county roads are an important link to our county’s beginnings.  Their stories are filled with interesting tidbits of history.  It is an honor to walk in the footsteps of not only the people who have rescued these very important landmarks but also the pioneers who are buried in them.

 

Resources:
The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties, Illinois who came before 1840. Katherine E. Rowland.  Gateway Press, Inc. 1990.

Tripp Family Cemetery Records at the Rockford Public Library in Local History Room
Online Resources:
Ancestry.com, see Noah Tripp, Jonas Tofflemire, Horace Dyer.

Find a Grave:https://www.findagrave.com, see Tripp Cemetery.

Genealogybank.com.

Winnebago County IL Archives Cemeteries, Tripp Pioneer Cemetery.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Hononegah Mack: “The Best Woman In The County”

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

“The best woman in Winnebago County died last night.”  These words were spoken after the death of Hononegah Mack in 1847.  She was only 33 years old when she passed from what her husband Stephen told his sisters was “lung fever.”

Hononegah’s early life seems to be a mystery.  According to some sources, she was born in 1808.  Some claim she was a daughter to the chief, making her a Native American princess while others say that she was an orphan being raised by her three uncles.

Whether princess or orphan, Hononegah’s story is filled with adventure and heart break.

15 year old Hononegah, according to one newspaper account from 1929, met Stephen Mack while she accompanied her father (or uncle) to search for a higher hunting ground for her village.  While on this scouting trip they stumbled onto Stephen Mack who was suffering from a high fever and near death.  Hononegah was very skilled in the medicinal plants and was able to nurse the young man back to health before continuing on her journey.  Mack was so touched by her beauty and gentleness that as soon as he was able to travel, he began to search for Hononegah.

Mack found Hononegah living in the area of Grand Detour.  Mack decided to stay and trade with the Potawatomi Tribe that called that area home.  Mack would trade their furs for supplies.  He made frequent trips all the way to Chicago on his pony to sell the furs and replenish the supplies he sold.

The arrangement worked to everyone’s benefit for awhile but the Native Americans wanted Mack to supply them with liquor and firearms.   Mack refused and some of the men decided to kill Mack when he returned from his trip to Chicago.  Hononegah overheard the men’s plans so she bravely sneaked from the camp and met Mack before he could be attacked.  Mack and Hononegah left the area for safer lodging.

One thing that remains clear in all the murky tales of Hononegah’s past is the courage that Hononegah always displayed.  Whether it was protecting Mack from certain death or treating neighbors through their illnesses, she never hesitated to help.

Stephen Mack would eventually become the first white settler in Winnebago County when he opened a trading post and started his own village where the Pecatonica and Rock Rivers converge.  Hononegah continued to utilize her knowledge of medicinal plants and nursed her neighbors.  Everyone who knew her spoke of her gentleness and willingness to help.

Mack eventually built a beautiful home for her and their eleven children (two died when still infants).  Hononegah seemed to enjoy her new home but still held on to her heritage.  She continued to dress in the traditional Native American clothing.

Disaster struck when Hononegah became sick and passed away in 1847.  Mack was completely heartbroken and seemed lost without Hononegah.  He was left with nine children aged from four months to 15 years old.  It might have been desperation that caused him to marry a widow, Mrs. Isabella Daniels.

Though they did not share details, Mack’s friends claimed this marriage was a mistake right from the very beginning.  The tragedy of Honoengah’s death was compounded when one of Stephen’s beloved children, nine year old Henry Clay, died in 1849.  Then the unthinkable happened and Mack died, or as some hinted, was helped on to his death in 1850.  Now orphans, the Mack children were split up and sent to live with different relatives.

Hononegah and Mack’s story is kept alive at the Macktown Living History Education Center at the Macktown Forest Preserve.  Their home still stands as well as the Trading Post that Mack built.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rathskeller’s Storied Past

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Rathskellerx450

The Der Rathskeller Restaurant on Auburn Street has been known for its tasty food and unique atmosphere since the 1930’s.  Many people have visited the beautiful Bier Garten since its addition in 2009.  This place is a wonderful combination of Rockford’s German history and the present day quest for good food and drinks at reasonable prices.  What may surprise some people is that it also houses a few “spirits” of the paranormal kind.

The history of Der Rathskeller goes back to the early 1930’s.  Fred Goetz, a Merrill Wisconsin native, came to Rockford when he was drafted in World War I.

Fred was German himself and didn’t want to fight in the European Campaign against his fellow countrymen so he was listed as a conscientious objector and served his time at Camp Grant as a Quartermaster Corps sergeant.  He fell in love here, first with his soon to be wife Irma and then with the city itself.

Fred decided to settle here after the war and worked for a time as a Burroughs Adding Machine Company salesman.  Fred loved the Rockford area but there is one thing he missed about Wisconsin- good sausage.  He searched in vain for the kind of sausage that he had enjoyed as a child but that did not stop the industrious Fred.

Fred decided that if Rockford didn’t have it then he would bring it here.  He ordered the sausage from Milwaukee, first for himself and then, as word spread, for his friends.  The idea took off in a big way and by 1931, Fred was ordering sausage for 800 households!  Fred was a smart man and decided that he would open his own shop.

Fred gave up his job selling adding machines and began to sell meats at his own Sausage Shop on Auburn Street.  He sold other things besides sausage including breads, caviar, and cheeses.  Fred noticed that many people would buy his sandwiches and stand outside to eat them so he decided to expand.  He set up a couple of tables with some chairs for his patrons to enjoy their food. Before long, he had to expand into the basement and with a nod to his German heritage, Der Rathskeller was opened.

Rockford’s population swelled during the World War II years and Fred and Irma’s little place grew with it.  They introduced other foods, including the lyonnaise potatoes that would become one of the signature dishes.  Fred also added imported beers to complete the German experience.

Der Rathskeller passed into other family members’ hands until it was finally sold in 1976 to Betty Giesen, her husband Dick, and her son, Michael DuPre.  They have continued with Fred’s vision, selling their own homemade sausages as well as Usinger brand meats.

Fred loved owning his restaurant and from staff accounts, he is still there making sure that Der Rathskeller continues in good hands.  Staff members have experienced enough odd incidents that make them very aware that Fred is still around.  The wait staff has experienced the sound of foot steps, shadows and many little pranks played by an unseen jokester.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

Paranormal Past Pervades Ethnic Heritage Museum

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Sue Lewandowski is the Board President for the Ethnic Heritage Museum and she has a real passion for Rockford History.   The Ethnic Heritage Museum is filled with “treasures” that represent six different ethnic groups that have called Southwest Rockford home.  It is another gem for people who are interested in Rockford’s history with an added benefit.  The 162 year old building that contains the museum happens to be haunted.

Haunted Rockford hosted its first event at the museum in 2012 and I interviewed Sue about the history of the building and ghostly experiences encountered there.  Sue mentioned the feeling of someone else in the room, shadows that move, and hearing voices.

Haunted Rockford was joined by renowned Paranormal Investigator and Author Dale Kaczmarek from Chicago for the event and he brought ghost hunting equipment along.  Psychics, Sara Bowker and Paul Smith, part of the Haunted Rockford Team, had never been in the building prior to that evening.

Almost immediately, Paul and Sara sensed that the building had been changed. They insisted that there was a flight of stairs to the basement that had been altered.  Sue was astonished when we entered the basement and shined a light through a hole in the cement wall.  The light illuminated a set of stairs that had been covered up.  “I was not aware those were even there,” Sue stated.

Sara and Paul felt drawn into the room where the stairs were.  They started to sense the presence of a small boy.  Kaczmarek brought his digital recorder and a piece of equipment called an Ovilus to the basement.  He and Sara Bowker conducted an EVP Session.  Electronic Voice Phenomena, known as EVP’s, are the recordings of a voice or noise that cannot be heard because of their higher frequencies.    Several of us were present in the basement watching Sara and Dale work.  Sara was talking to the little boy that she and Paul had sensed while Dale was observing the equipment.  The temperature in the basement actually dropped and then a voice came from the Ovilus that said “Mark”.  Dale backed up the digital recorder and played it for all of us to hear.  Right before we heard the electronic voice from the Ovilus saying “Mark” there was a little child’s voice that said, “Come out, Come out”.  Everyone was shocked because we had not heard any voice except Sara asking questions and the Ovilus.  The child’s voice was very clear and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.  We also realized that the name Mark came through as a response to Sara’s question “What is your name?”

Haunted Rockford has been back to the museum a few times since that night and Paul and Sara have been able to communicate with “Mark” a little more each time.   “It’s like he’s playing Hide and Seek with us,” explains Sara.  At first, the team was afraid “Mark” was trapped in the building after death but after getting more information from him, Paul and Sara are certain that “Mark” lived in the house but did not die there.

There are plenty of other spirits that are still in the house, however.   The staff is still experiencing the noises, voices, and shadows.   I continue to research the many families that have lived in the house over the 162 year history, searching for any child that might have lived in the house named “Mark”.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Donald Brown — Serving His Nation With Honor

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” — G.K. Chesterton

Donald Hamilton Brown, an African-American, was born in Jackson, Tennessee, on June 22, 1925, to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brown. His family moved to Rockford a year later.

Donald was raised in Rockford and seemed to excel at all he attempted. He attended Blake Elementary School and West High School, and was on the track team. Donald was a talented athlete, and is featured in the West High yearbooks for 1940 and 1941 and mentioned in the Rockford paper. He set a record for the high jump and built a reputation for his skills for the hurdles. He graduated in May 1942, and then headed to Wilberforce University in Ohio. He attended college there until he joined the United States Navy in 1944.

Donald served in the Pacific campaign and reached the rank of Yeoman 2nd class. His duties included clerical work. He dealt with mail and telephone calls, handled visitors, organized files, and ordered and distributed supplies. From all accounts, Donald was very efficient at handling his many duties.

In 1945, Donald was in the Marshall Islands in support of the invasions there. The Marshall Islands were ruled by the Japanese during the 1930s and 1940s. It was an important geographical position, and the Japanese built military bases there in the 1930s to fortify their Eastern defenses. The United States invaded the islands in 1944, causing major damage to the bases and the islands themselves. Many Japanese people died because of lack of food and injuries during the time of 1943 to 1945.

While he was stationed on the Marshall Islands, Donald would lose his life. The newspaper articles only said that Donald died by drowning, serving his country on Sept. 23, 1945, when he was 20 years old. Though he died in 1945, Donald’s body was not returned to Rockford until November 1947.

Ten different military organizations met at the Memorial Hall in Rockford to discuss and organize the handling of the returning war dead to ensure they all received full military honors and burials. Harry P. Dannenberg was chosen to represent the organizations as the Winnebago County service officer. Donald was one of the first of the 462 dead war heroes to return home.

Donald Brown’s funeral service was at Allen Chapel, and the Rev. G.I. Holt officiated the services. Military rites were conducted by the members of the Jefferson Horton Post, American Legion Brown Webster Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Navy Club of Rockford. Donald was buried at Greenwood Cemetery.

Donald had two brothers, Richard and Robert, who also served in the war. Robert served in the Pacific, and Richard served in the European campaign. Both of these men returned home after the war and lived their lives here, raising families and making major contributions to the Rockford community.

Donald Brown took pride in representing his school in track meets and serving his country by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Unsolved Murder Of Rockford Police Officer Arthur Bassett

Originally published in the Rock River Times.

Mr and Mrs Arthur Bassett

1927 was an exciting time for Arthur Bassett.  At 28 years old, Arthur was already a highly respected police officer who had served in the department for three years.  And he was soon to be married to Pearl Johnson.

Sept. 22, 1927, Arthur worked until 11 p.m. and then picked up Pearl for a short drive down Montague Road.  On the way back to Pearl’s home, Arthur turned onto Michigan Avenue near the intersection of South Central Avenue when he pulled off to the side of the road.  This is a residential area now, but in 1927, it was still surrounded by fields.

The couple hadn’t sat there very long when another car pulled up behind them.  Arthur and Pearl were both startled when four men surrounded the Ford sedan, pounding on the hood and yelling obscenities.  Arthur asked them what they wanted. “Get out of the car and you’ll see,” was the answer given.

Arthur climbed out of his car, grabbing both the .45 automatic that he kept stashed by the seat and his service revolver.  One of the assailants jumped into the car with Pearl and told her to get down; Arthur turned to face the other three, and they all started to shoot.

The shooting soon stopped, and the man in Arthur’s car jumped out of the sedan.  Pearl heard one of the men yell, “For God’s sakes, Ralph, get me in the car quick, I am bleeding to death!” The others picked him up and carried him to the car, and they roared away.

Pearl ran to Arthur, who was in the middle of the street, a pool of blood spreading out under him.  Pearl ran down the street screaming for help.  Police rushed to the scene, but there was nothing they could do for their fallen comrade.

The police could tell the gun fight had been at very close range, and the substantial amount of blood in the field near the road told that one of the men had been hit.  They spread out and searched the fields and road around the scene with flashlights, certain they would find another body, but there was nothing.

That same night, Dr. O.M. Ford was awakened by pounding on his door at 2011 School St.  There was a man at his door yelling for help for his friend who had been shot, and the friend waited in the car.  Dr. Ford explained that he didn’t have the proper equipment there at his home.  He told the man to take his friend to a hospital.  The men left, and Dr. Ford noticed it was around 12:30 a.m.

Later that morning, when Dr. Ford heard about the shooting, he phoned police to tell them of his late-night visitors.  He said the man who knocked on the door was young but that he didn’t notice the type of car or see anyone else.  Since the wounded man was taken to the doctor’s home, the police theorized that at least one of the men was local.

At Arthur’s autopsy, Coroner Fred Olson reported that the fatal shot went right through Arthur’s chest, cutting his aorta and exiting just under the right shoulder blade.

Police investigated, but could come up with no motive; there was nothing taken except for Arthur’s service revolver.  They were led to believe this was a completely random act by strangers.

The police checked local hospitals and other doctors, and searched field after field looking for evidence of a recent burial, but they never found any sign of the men.

The police, Pearl, and Arthur’s family all thought it would just be a matter of time before someone talked or they found new evidence that would lead to the men who killed Arthur.  But they were wrong.  There were never any arrests made for the killing of Patrol Officer Arthur Bassett.

A scene re-enacting the killing: X marks the spot where Bassett died; the cross is the position of the bandit wounded by the officer; and the figure to the left of the car is Bassett’s killer. Photo by the Rockford Register Republic.

Arthur Bassett’s two-door sedan with bullet-shattered window. Photo by the Rockford Register Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Prohibition And Early Mob Activity In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Many people know about Prohibition and can easily call up images of police officers breaking in doors, smashing stills and confiscating bottles of illegal hooch. They can also imagine gangsters dressed in fancy suits, racing through city streets and shooting at each other or the police. But one imagines these things taking place in big cities like New York or Chicago; one hardly thinks of them happening here in Rockford.

But the Rockford Sunday Republic stated in an article from Aug. 17, 1930: “Back in 1923, Rockford bootleggers were beginning to organize into groups, now known as gangs, to withstand the attacks being made on them by enforcement officers and to hold up the tumbling alcohol and moonshine prices which were rapidly slipping down.”

During that same year, Rockford had its first reported gangster killing. It was Oct. 8, 1923, when a corpse was found forced into a culvert on Montague Road. The man would later be identified as Louis J. Milani. Milani’s throat was slashed and his body was mutilated. He also had a large rock placed on his chest. His murder has never been solved.

Aug. 14, 1930, Joe Giovingo, a Rockford native, was standing on the curb by the corner of Morgan and South Main streets, talking to four men who were sitting in an automobile. One of the men was Tony Abbot. Abbot, whose real name was Abbatini, was reportedly part of Al Capone’s gang from Chicago. Abbot allegedly killed one of “Bugs” Moran’s men, Jack Zuta, in Wisconsin and was in Rockford, hiding out.

As Joe was speaking to Abbot, two detectives called him over to speak to them. They wanted to talk to him about the recent raid at Giovingo’s home on Harding Street. The officers were Folke Bengsten and Roy Johnson.

They had just started to talk to Joe when a large “high-powered” Dodge sedan appeared on South Main Street. As it passed Abbot’s car, a shotgun was poked through the rear window and shots were fired. They struck the car that Abbot was sitting in. Abbot and the other men in the car scrambled out of the doors and hunched behind the car. Johnson hit the ground, and Bengsten ducked and then drew his gun to return fire. He hit the rear window. The car continued south on South Main and then turned onto Montague Road.

Joe had 17 wounds from the gunshot blast that had torn into his side. One slug hit his elbow first, then passed into his abdomen. He died a few minutes later.

The Dodge sedan was recovered the next day about a mile-and-a-half from the city on Montague Road. This led the police to believe this was a premeditated hit. Bengsten and Johnson also reported that Abbot appeared nervous as he was sitting in his car. Abbot kept checking the rear-view mirror as if looking for someone.

Police officers could not agree whether the bullets were meant for Abbot or Giovingo, who was a suspected bootlegger himself. Abbot and his body guards were taken into custody, but later released.

Paul Giovingo, Joe’s brother, came to the station to speak to police and then left with Abbot. Paul and Abbot were apparently good friends.

Paul Giovingo would, years later, suffer the same fate as his brother. Paul was also murdered in a gangster-type slaying in February 1933. He was found shot to death in his car on South Winnebago Street, not far from his house. There was shotgun damage to the driver side of the car and wounds on the left side of Paul’s body. The killers must have wanted to ensure Paul’s death because evidence showed they stopped the car and fired several revolver shots to the back of his head. Powder marks indicated these were contact wounds.

“Abandoned Death Automobile Found Today”: “The automobile used by Chicago gangsters who last night murdered Joseph Giovingo of Rockford with bullets believed to have been intended for Tommy Abbott, notorious Chicago gangster, near the Morgan st. intersection of S. Main st., was found abandoned today near Beverly Gardens on Montague road. The license plates on the car were issued to Antonio Cantone, 1236 Ferguson st. This address is that of a vacant lot, and nobody by the name of Cantone can be located in Rockford.” Pictured: Deputy Sheriff Chester Pence (right) and Police Detective Roy Johnson examining a shot gun shell. (From the Rockford Daily Republic, Aug. 15, 1930)

Paul Giovingo (from the Morning Star, Feb. 12, 1933)

Joseph Giovingo (from the Rockford Daily Republic, Aug. 15, 1930)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Mr. Blakesley And His Musical Mouse

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

A story about a man having a mouse in his house may not seem very newsworthy today, but that is exactly what was in the headlines of the Rockford newspapers in December 1883.  Apparently, Mr. Blakesley, who lived “at the foot of Winnebago Street” during that time, had been awakened by strange noises in the night.  He described the sounds much like the singing of a canary.  Mr. Blakesley told of his search that went on for several nights until he was awakened by the sounds that were now coming from his very bedroom!  He stayed still, but very quietly looked around the room until he spotted a small mouse on the bureau.  Blakesley was astonished to see the little creature “warbling with the greatest freedom.”

He decided to trap the little mouse, and finally, after many attempts, succeeded.  Blakesley had heard of this phenomenon, when a similar story was recently reported out east.  His was the first account to come from this part of the country, however.

Rockfordians were fascinated by the story of this little musical mouse.  It was described as “a beautiful maltese color, with a breast of snowy white fur.”  The articles claim that the head is different from an ordinary mouse because it was longer and the ears were larger.  The mouse’s little hands and feet were entirely white.

Blakesley built a little house from tin for his musical guest.  It had two stories, and he would set fresh bedding outside of the cage.  The little mouse would pull it through the bars of the cage and carry it to the second floor to build a little nest.  Every morning, the mouse would pull the bedding to the first floor, where it would spread it out to air.

Some of the habits of this extraordinary mouse varied as well.  Mr. Mouse, as he is named in one article, would daintily reach into the food bowl and eat one seed at a time, much like a canary.  When a basin of water would be added to the little cage, Mr. Mouse would drink his fill and then proceed to dip both of his front paws in the water and scrub his face.  The sight of the little creature’s little, wet paws, stroking his fur in such a “deliberate manner,” would thoroughly entertain his audience.

What really delighted the audience, however, was the sight of the tiny creature giving a musical performance.  Blakesley had successfully trained the animal to perform on command.  He would tap his finger on the cage several times and the mouse would stop whatever it was doing, sit up and open its tiny mouth.  The sounds that came out would startle first-time guests.  The sounds were not a squeak, as one might expect from this animal. They were described as a “melody of sounds — high and low pitch, sharp and clear, low and trembling, exactly like a canary.”  The mouse would also bob his head while singing, increasing the similarity.

The effect on the audience was always astonishing to observe.  Most would laugh outright, and then they would question Blakesley about the “freak of nature.”  He would always point out the similarities between Mr. Mouse and a canary, calling the paradox of seeing one type of creature mimicking another “astonishing and interesting.”

The similar story of the capture of another such creature took place in London, England, and that little animal was put into a museum.  Blakesley had several offers for the purchase of his unique songster, including one from the Chicago Museum, but he had turned them all down, content to share his delightful performer with his neighbors here in Rockford.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Mattie Culver – Her Spirit Still Walks

Some of you may know that I travel all over the country to visit haunted historical locations.  I am very blessed to have a partner that never hesitates to drive the “road less traveled”.  We have ended up in some pretty amazing places and have experienced many adventures together.

This story is about one of these adventures. This past fall we headed toward Yellowstone National Park.  I visited the Rockford Public Library and checked out several tour guides for the park and surrounding areas.

I am always astonished to find ghost stories in the most unusual places.  One of the books mentioned that there are several grave sites in the park beyond the cemeteries of Fort Yellowstone and Kite Hill.  One of the graves that caught my attention was the story of Mattie Shipley Culver who died in March of 1889.

Her grave was not inside one of the cemeteries but stood all alone close to the Nez Perce Picnic Area inside of the park itself.  At first I was curious about why a woman would be buried there all alone with no other family members close by.  I became fascinated with Mattie and felt compelled to learn her story.  

She was born Martha Jane Shipley on September 18, 1856 in Massachusetts.  Her family was very poor and Mattie (as her family called her) started to work in the dirty textile factories as a young child.  Her parents divorced when she was seven causing even more hardship for the little girl. Mattie lived with her father after the break up of the marriage.  When he was killed during the Civil War, Mattie was passed around to several family members.

Mattie grew to be a lovely young woman with very limited resources.  She and her sister, Nellie would spend hours dreaming of far-off places away from the crowded city. Their dreams became possible when Nellie met a young man named David Alston.  David made the sisters feel like they could have the life they had visioned.  The three decided to leave the crowded cities of the east coast behind and headed toward the west.  They settled in Pease Bottom, Montana.

It was in Montana that Mattie first fell in love.  The man’s name was Eugene Gillette.  Mattie’s happiness was short lived, however.  She must have been heart broken when Eugene contracted tuberculosis and died one year after their wedding. Mattie’s devotion and care for her young husband impressed all who knew her.  

Mattie next met a dashing young man by the name of Ellery C. Culver.  Ellery was an adventurer that had left his home state of New York and traveled west.  He served in the Civil War in the Ohio Infantry. Though the details of their meeting have been lost to time, stories tell of how the widowed Ellery was taken with the beautiful twenty six year old Mattie. Records show that the couple was married in Yellowstone, Montana in 1886.

The young couple welcomed their first child in June of 1887.  They named the little girl Theda after Ellery’s sister.  The couple must have thought all of their dreams were coming true when Ellery was offered a job through the Yellowstone Park Association as the Master of Transportation.  He had to leave Mattie and the newborn behind until he could make things ready for them in their new home.  

Ellery established their new living quarters at the Firehole Hotel, set in a beautiful location on the Firehole River.  Mattie was filled with excitement when she left Billings on July 26, 1886.  She was moving to a beautiful location with her husband and her daughter to begin their new life together.  Mattie thoughts probably wandered back to the nights spent with her sister when they talked of their future lives far away from the dirty factories of the city.

Both Ellery and Mattie must have felt blessed as they settled into their new surroundings. Mattie helped Ellery with his duties at the hotel and they shared many happy days watching their little girl playing among the pine trees.  

Mattie probably knew from the beginning that she had tuberculosis.  She had nursed her first husband through the dreaded disease and knew the symptoms all too well. She might have even known before the trip to Yellowstone and hoped the clean mountain air would save her.  

Mattie would put on a brave face for her husband but she began to spend more and more time walking along the banks of the Firehole River.  All too soon, the disease progressed until Mattie could not hide the symptoms any longer.  The couple had to face their worst fears and on a cold winter day in the beginning of March, 1889, Mattie drew her last breath.  Ellery was grief stricken and unsure what to do with himself.  There also was the matter of Mattie’s body.  The deep snow and frozen ground meant that burial would need to be postponed.  

Mattie was well loved through the area and several soldiers came to assist her family.  They brought along two barrels to place end to end.  They gently placed Mattie’s body inside and covered her with snow.  Mattie’s official burial was not conducted for almost two weeks later.  

Ellery knew that Mattie loved the area around the river and he made the decision that she would rest there under the pines.  He built her a coffin from wood that was once a partition from their rooms. Ellery had a beautiful head stone designed and shipped to place on her grave so that all who wandered past the place would know of Mattie and his love for her.  Ellery was due to leave the area in the spring but he made the soldiers and others inside the park promise to look after Mattie’s grave until his return.  He took Theda to Mattie’s sister’s home while he traveled from station to station for his duties.  Ellery often returned to the lovely area to visit Mattie’s grave.  He would work three more years in Yellowstone before moving away.

Even after the rest of the family left Yellowstone, people continued to see Mattie.  She often was seen walking by the river she loved.  Some even heard her lovely voice singing lullabies as they walked among the pine trees. Those who drew close to see her face spoke of her beauty and the incredible sadness that filled her eyes.   

Unfortunately, Mattie’s death would not be the only tragedy in Ellery’s life.  In 1906, nineteen year old Theda lived with her Aunt Nellie in Spokane, Washington.  She became ill and died suddenly.  Ellery seemed broken by this final loss and retired to a Old Soldiers home in California.

 Finally, in 1922, Ellery knew his time was drawing short and he spoke to all who would listen that his final wish was to be laid to rest next to his beloved wife.  This wish was denied and after his death on April 7, 1922, Ellery was buried in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery in what is now Los Angeles, California.  

Though his body may lie many miles from Mattie, some say that Ellery’s spirit has joined hers in Yellowstone.  Travelers in the area now speak of not one spirit but two.  Witnesses tell of spotting two people dressed in older period clothing walking hand in hand by the beautiful river, especially in the evening hours right before sunset.  

As I walked where Mattie and her family once lived so long ago, I was once again touched by her story. I noticed the untouched beauty of the spot and also realized that this location, like so many I have been fortunate enough to visit through the years,  holds its place in time.  The veil between the present and the past is very thin here and it is possible to envision the way things once were.

 

For more details of the fascinating life of Mattie Culver, see the book “Mattie, A Woman’s Journey West” by Nan Weber, https://nanweber.com/my-book-page

If you would like to read more about the people who settled Yellowstone (and their ghosts!) I would recommend the following two books.  “Death In Yellowstone” by Lee H. Whittlesey describes some of the mishaps, accidents and other means of demise that have befallen visitors and staff throughout the years and “Yellowstone Ghost Stories” by Shellie Larios tells of the spiritual inhabitants as well as some of the legends that have been passed down.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events